Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Embarassing to Who?

On p29 Habermas and Licona argue that the criteria of embarrassment supports the claim that Jesus must have predicted his own resurrection. This is because as recorded in the Gospels, the disciples response to these predictions portray them as dunces. They, having heard Jesus predict his own resurrection, and having seen him perform miracles already, and then discovering the tomb is empty just as Jesus predicted, they're just too stupid to figure out that maybe he rose just as he said he would. This must be all accurate history, because it is unlikely that they would be portrayed in such an unfavorable way if this were mere invention. They would have been portrayed as heroes. The author must have simply recorded what to him was an embarrassing, but true fact.

What's surprising to me is that this kind of reasoning was ever persuasive to me. It is obvious to me now that these are all clues to the fictive nature of these stories. I discussed this at some length at Triablogue, and the point was really never grasped by my opponents. This is over the top buffonery. Jesus performs miracles. He predicts that he will be betrayed, tried, scourged, killed, then he would rise on the third day. So what happens? The disciples watch as he's betrayed, tried, scourged, then killed. Then when they hear reports that the tomb is empty it doesn't occur to them that perhaps he's performed another miracle, not unlike miracles he himself had performed previously (Lazarus)? Is that realistic? No. But it is quite a bit like fictional stories that we often hear. For instance, Watson is the dunce foil for Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has no need to verbalize his explanation for what happened at a crime scene. He has it all figured out and has no real need to tell anyone. But the reader wants to know. What to do? Insert a dunce that asks the questions, so that Holmes can explain for the reader's benefit what is really "elementary." Mt 16 would be one example. "Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees." "Oh crap. He's mad that we forgot bread." "No, you stupid idiots. Do you think I care about bread. I just fed thousands with just a couple of loaves. How stupid are you people? Let me explain what I mean." Etc, etc. This is a plot prop.

But back to my main point. Supposedly this would be embarrassing to the author. But is that really true? We need a little more information to know if this would be embarrassing to the author. First of all, we need to know who the author was so that we can determine what his attitude towards the disciples was. Do we know this? Absolutely not. Habermas and Licona have not defended traditional authorship as far as I can see (I've read through page 164). They are not defending every disputed point that Christians believe. This is about minimal facts accepted by the majority of scholarship and the conclusions that they think follow from those minimal facts.

We simply don't know that the gospel authors had a problem with embarrassing portraits of the disciples. We do know that Marcion was not a big fan of the disciples. He thought they completely blew it, and Jesus had to start over with Paul. Marcion was very influential in the early church. Could Marcion have influenced the Gospel of Mark? Could Mark and Marcion be one and the same person? That is a question I can't answer. But I can say that there does appear to be Marcionite content in the gospels. That will have to be a subject for a later post.

Bottom line, the criteria of embarrassment only works if we know the author would have been embarrassed. We don't know that. So we can't make judgments about the historicity of these claims on this basis.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Habermas and Licona on "Minimal Facts"

Habermas and Licona are calling the thrust of their argument in their book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” the minimal facts approach. That is, they consider certain facts agreed upon by the vast majority of scholars (including critical scholarship apparently) and they then consider what those facts imply about the resurrection. These include:

1-Jesus died by crucifixion
2-The disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them
3-The church persecutor Paul converted to Christianity
4-The skeptic James converted to Christianity
5-The tomb was empty

Licona and Habermas do present arguments in favor of the claims. But heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that scholars accept these claims.

I have a couple of problems with this approach. The first is simply that majority opinion does not determine truth. This is something that was drilled into me as a Christian by my apologetic mentors and the Christian authors I read. The majority of biologists believe that man evolved from lower life forms. That doesn’t make it right. The majority of geologists do not believe that a flood occurred which caused the waters to rise higher than the tallest mountains. That’s OK. Truth is not determined by majority opinion.

The next major problem I have with this is that Habermas and Licona seem to only focus on those facts accepted by the majority of scholarship that benefit the Christian apologetic argument. I haven’t done a survey, but I strongly suspect that the majority of scholars do not believe that the apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter. I strongly suspect that the majority of scholars believe that Jesus made erroneous predictions about his own imminent return (even C.S. Lewis agreed). What would happen if we took these things as brute, unassailable facts and worked out what they implied? I don’t think the apologist would be happy with the conclusions that we drew.

Finally, I have my doubts about just how “critical” these scholars really are. Habermas admits in an interview here that of these scholars that are part of his survey, a majority actually believe that Jesus was in fact resurrected! If these type of scholars qualify as critical scholars, then critical scholarship is in a pretty sad state.

What matters is not the number of people that agree with you. What matters is the validity of the arguments. I’ll be considering some of those in subsequent posts.

Gullibility of Early Christians

It is transparently obvious to most unbiased people that ancient people were generally more superstitious and gullible than modern people. This isn't a criticism. It's just an obvious truism. Modern people have the advantage of more learning. We can stand on the shoulders of the geniuses that preceded us and so we have view of the world that is better informed. I've had discussions with Christians that want to deny this truism. It is apparent that the writers at Family Guy get it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

I've started reading a book from Gary Habermas and Mike Licona called The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. I'm planning to write a few posts commenting on some of the arguments as I go through them, then perhaps writing a more comprehensive review at a later stage summarizing those comments in one single more extensive review of the entire book.

Licona and Habermas seem to both be pretty sharp guys. Robert Price has good things to say about Habermas. I purchased a DVD that contained a series of debates from Mike Licona and I was pretty impressed with him. The DVD contained his debates with Shabir Ally, Dan Barker, and Richard Carrier. All participants did well. (The debate with Carrier is available here. I don't see that the DVD I got from Licona is available anymore.)

So I expect this book from Licona and Habermas to be decent. So far it appears to be somewhat of a surface level treatment of the issues. I'd say this is intended to be a handbook of introductory arguments that are intended to rebut the lay skeptic. Maybe like somebody you'd meet at the cafeteria where you work. In terms of its intended purpose, this tool would successfully rebut a typical ignorant layman.

It suspect it wouldn't work on a person that is more informed on these issues. I can't say for certain, because I've just started it, but I am confident this is how it will work. The arguments so far are made in such a way that they take a lot of key assumptions for granted. The skeptical position is misrepresented. I'll begin exposing some of these issues in subsequent posts.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Timeline for the Death of Jesus

It can be difficult to make sense of the timeline for Jesus death when considering the data presented in the Synoptics vs what is presented in the Gospel of John. What seems clear is that in the synoptics the lambs are slaughtered on the Day of Preparation, and the last Supper is the Passover meal (e.g. Mk 14:12-16). For John it is important to stress the theological point that Jesus is the lamb of God. So for John Jesus is crucified at the same time the Passover lambs would normally be slaughtered, and the crucifixion is already done and over with by the time he would supposedly have consumed the Passover meal as per the synoptics (Jn 19:14-15,31).

To fuller understanding of this timeline, a helpful table was created by a man named Felix Just which is available here. This table compares Mark's passion presentation with that of John so that the distinctions are apparent.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Own Blog

I've been commenting on blogs for a while. Mostly over at Triablogue. Sometimes also at Debunking Christianity, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, and STR. Triablogue worked the best for me. It's not too big, where comments get lost. There aren't a whole lot of non-Christians there, so as one of only a few I'd get lots of attention and criticism. This makes for faster paced learning. The drawback at Triablogue is that the contributers are generally more obnoxious and rude, being mostly Reformed types. STR and Catholic blogs are not nearly as bad. So you have to hold your nose though insult after insult. If you can tolerate that you can learn.

Unfortunately I was banned. Why? Well, it's not too clear. The only thing specific mentioned is my use of "google and Wikipedia". Kind of weird. But the "staff" at Triablogue does not want to elaborate. Anyone that would want to discuss it over there would risk being banned as well.

I think I was mostly banned because of another person. A guy that went by the name of Touchstone. Touchstone was an old earth evolutionist Christian, and he had been spending a lot of time exposing Triabloggers as ignorant and irrational on the issue of origins. They hurled insult after insult at him trying to scare him off, but like me it didn't seem to bother him too much. I think the guy just has enough confidence in his own positions that he wasn't intimidated by their attempts to malign him personally.

But the real kick in the crotch came here, where Touchstone explained some of his reasons for spending time at Triablogue. Apparently he had been witnessing to people, and those people as they considered Christianity came upon Triablogue, with all of its vitriol, condescension, arrogance, and ignorance. They would say to Touchstone "This is Christianity? This is the movement you suggest I join?" They wanted him to address Triablogue nonsense, and so he did. Touchstone showed what he had argued in many cases before. In many cases Triablogue does far more harm to Christainity than Richard Dawkins type skeptical bloggers ever could do.

I think it was this commentary that really sealed his fate, and mine. Nothing hurts more than the truth. The realities of the impact Triablogue has on potential converts was a real sucker punch for these guys. What to do? They had been trying name calling for a long time, and that works for most people. It obviously wasn't working on Touchstone. They had no choice. They had to ban him. But on what grounds? You can't ban him for his truthful arguments about the effects of Triablogue. Pretty much they didn't bother with specific reasons for banning him. Discussion with him I guess is unprofitable.

Basically Touchstone makes Triabloggers work very hard. His arguments are good and he's just as tenacious as they are. He wears them out. Dave Armstrong sometimes pops in. John Loftus sometimes pops in. Other skeptics from Debunking Christianity pop in. By Triablogue logic discussions with these people are just as unprofitable as discussions with Touchstone. But the difference is, these people are not quite as tenacious. They might go elsewhere in the face of insult.

Orthodox and I are more like Touchstone than we are like some of the skeptics that don't take much time. We make these guys work a little bit. If they are going to be unfair and ban Touchstone, why not also eliminate others that are sometimes difficult to deal with and make the load a whole lot easier. I think that's why I'm gone.

It seems to me that this action is entirely emotional, rather than rational. Triablogue is very slow to ban people. They allow anonymous comments from people that really do nothing but heckle. They of course think I engaged in poor reasoning, but when I posted, it wasn't about heckling and harassing. It was about engaging in substantive arguments. Same with Touchstone and Orthodox. I wasn't a big fan of Orthodox' reasoning, but he was clearly there to engage. So they've banned their three primary opponents that engaged their reasoning at levels deeper than any other. This meant long, extensive comments' sections at the end of their posts. Since we've left there's been less extensive debate in the comboxes. I think there is less that can be learned.

So this partly explains why I started this blog. I enjoy participating in this debate, and perhaps I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with other formats available to me. So I'll try it here and see what happens.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Christian Camp

Many have heard of the movie Jesus Camp. Yeah, I suppose you'd have to consider them a little crazy. But I will say this. Crazy Christian Camp is loads of fun. I spent about 5 summers there. Excellent memories.

For us it was a very out of the way place near Lima, OH for a couple of years, then Fa-Ho-Lo during my High School years. What a riot. Now, it is true that they engaged in some behavior that some might consider abusive during worship service. During one service at the place near Lima (I don't remember where exactly it was located. I was only about 10) they for some reason got it into their heads that this service was going to be about our guilt as sinners, and our need to love one another. They poured on the emotional rhetoric to the point where some started crying. I believe this was perceived as evidence of activity by the Holy Spirit. This brought on even more impassioned statements and emotional appeals. They would not quit until the entire room was full of a bunch of sobbing 8-10 year olds. What a bizarre scene it must have appeared to a sane outsider had one been looking on.

But after the service it was time for fun and games. We played a game in the middle of the night where all the kids were split into two teams. One team had tube socks filled with flour. The other had items in hand which needed to be placed in a bucket in a remote corner of the woods. The challenge was to reach that corner without getting slapped with a tube sock that left a white mark due to the flour. That was great fun.

At Fa-Ho-Lo they had two daily worship services, which were similar to those at Lima. They ran us ragged all day long. But at night the challenge was to get up and try to get away with a few pranks without getting caught. Our greatest success was running a pair of my brothers huge, smelly, stained yellow (we washed our clothes with well water that always seemed to leave our white's a little discolored), brown streaky underwear up the flagpole. Every morning at 7 the entire group of campers (a couple of hundred people) met at the flagpole for the flag raising ceremony. We watched as they first were forced to run the underwear down before raising the flag. Awesome.

The other great thing about Fa-Ho-Lo was the chicks. Me and my brothers were on cloud 9 mingling with all of those hotties. I don't know what our problem was when it came to girls. We were just so uncomfortable around girls that we always avoided them in fear. There was no reason to. We were a pretty good looking group of guys (back then anyway). Everybody is at least 6 feet tall, wide shouldered, etc. Personality wise I don't think we really lacked. But around girls we would become so nervous that we just couldn't function, so we'd avoid them, and that would of course perpetuate our own awkward behavior around them.

Anyway, being put in a position where we had to mingle with girls (at least the ones on our own team) was good for us and we liked it.

So what's the point? Well, the point is it's probably true that Jesus Camp is a little weird. Probably they do some things that some might consider hazardous to your emotional health. But for my part I certainly don't feel the worse for wear due to it, and I wouldn't trade it for one additional summer week with nothing do.

About Me

I'm a former Pentecostal Christian turned Southern Baptist Christian turned agnostic that's looking for a place to collect my own thoughts and engage in friendly dialogue. We'll see how this goes, or if I even manage to keep it going for a prolonged length of time.